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Headline Labour & Employment: Legislative initiative to fight the wage gap between men and women

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According to recent figures of the OECD, the wage gap between men and women still amounts to 8.9%. The University of Leuven estimates it even at 11.5%. Already in July of last year, a legislative proposal was submitted aimed at eliminating the wage gap. On 8 March 2012, this proposal (albeit in a slightly amended version) was approved by the Parliament. It is only a matter of time before the new Act will be published and will enter into force.

The new Act will oblige the social partners, on interprofessional level and on industry level, to negotiate as to the fight against the wage gap and to take measures, particularly by rendering job classification systems gender neutral. Moreover, existing as well as new industrial collective bargaining agreements containing job classification and evaluation systems will be reviewed by the Federal Public Service for Employment in the light of gender neutrality.

New obligations will also apply to the employers. A measure that will affect many employers, given the fact that it will apply as from the employment of 4 workers, is the obligation to split the data on the social balance sheet between female and male employees (a.o. pay roll costs, full-time and part-time contracts etc.).

For employers employing on average more than 50 workers two other obligations are added hereto, being:

- the drawing up of a biennial detailed survey of the wage structure. This survey must be discussed within the works council or, in the absence thereof, within the committee for prevention and protection at work, and can lead to measures should it follow from the survey that the wage policy is not gender neutral;

- the appointment of a mediator who can advice on gender neutrality in the wage policy and can receive complaints from workers regarding an alleged unequal wage treatment based on gender. The Act does not explicitly provide for the obligation to appoint such mediator, but stipulates that a mediator must be put in place at the request of the works council or, in the absence thereof, at the request of the committee for prevention and protection at work. In practice, it will probably turn out to be difficult for an employer to deny such request of the council or the committee.

We will of course inform you in due time when this Act enters into force.